Highlights from Church Planter’s Academy

A while back I had the opportunity to attend a Church Planter’s Academy, but I haven’t had a chance to post the highlights from my notes until now. Whether you are attempting to form a new faith community or enliven an old one, you will likely find some useful tools and practices below:


Opening questions:
(1) I come from a people who…
(2) I come from a place where…
(3) I bring with me…

@maggiemraz – Maggie Mraz (Bull City Vineyard Church, Durham, NC).

  • Get a card, put your name and info on it, and tell people, “I’m the pastor of a church that doesn’t exist…yet.”
  • I’m a nametag resister turned nametag convert. You treat people differently if you know their name.
  • Gen 1 isn’t actually “Creatio ex nihilo.” There was already water & “the deep” over which God’s wind swept. Creating from nothing? Or creating from the chaos? If there’s no chaos there’s nothing for God to create from.
  • We’re focusing on one-mile radius. Many of our folks walk to church.
  • You need to own a Pick-up truck

Nannette Sawyer (Grace Commons, Chicago) @nanettesawyer

  • Grace Commons finds its center in a generous and dynamic Christianity (which doesn’t mean that everyone is a Christian) #CenterSet

Nadia Bolz-Weber (House for All Sinners and Saints, Denver)

  • We are both simultaneously sinner and saint (Simul Iustus et Peccator).
  • Grace is real.
  • NOT one person has joined the church because of our quirky events in community, but maybe they are “ends” in themselves with intrinsic value, but not means to church membership. (Blessing of Bicycles, Theology Pub, Handing out doughnuts on Fat Tuesday)
  • “I was NOT going to lose my kids planting a church.”


  • What are you noticing? All these church plants involve a lot of food. Jesus did that! #EucharistAsPotluck
  • Vinyard Model (people sent with you who have been enculturated in another setting) vs. Parachute Model (leader dropped in alone without support).
  • NONE of the three put any more into advertising, except for web design.

A more evangelical version of this conference:

Failure Is Not an Option…It’s a Necessity

  • @mtoy: On start-ups, “I think there is a way to create wonderful and beautiful things and not treat humans as production units.”
  • Netscape incredibly successful in some ways, but also highly toxic. I’m still recovering from it 10 years later.

@MikeStavlund to talk about failure.

  • Euthanizing a church = literally “Good Death.” What does it look like for a church to practice “dying well”?
  • EUlogy = “Good words” about death. EUthanizing, EUcharist. Perhaps some connections there with new life and #failure?
  • Babies learn to walk, etc. by making thousands of micro failures
  • I’m reminded of the time I picked up my little one in a fit of impatience, and we both tumbled down the stairs
  • Is church planting platitude true that “Easier to give birth than raise the dead?”
  • Call everything an experiment, not as a gimmick but mean it.
  • Freakonomics » “The Upside of Quitting.”
  • Failure is the “F word” of our denomination. No one declares it. How do we know when we’ve failed?
  • Economic lenses of “sunk cost & opportunity cost”: past decisions do not have to dominate future.
  • “Base the value of our churches not on longevity but on the impact they had.”
  • Next up to talk about failure, Rich McCullen http://www.missiongathering.com
  • What would it look like if we spoke of the church not in terms of success/failure but faithfulness/unfaithfulness?
  • We cannot be all things to all people.
  • We started with too much money.
  • A church that has a mortgage…has a future. Have to be invested together.
  • Talk about growth.
  • It’s okay to be attractional.
  • Do NOT pay for mailers, not with today’s technology, even with targeted zip codes, etc. B/c when you get something in the mail unsolicited, you recycle it. (We spent $25k per mailing for little to no return….)
  • “Don’t hire people you don’t like and don’t gel with”
  • Do not try to build your church on cool hip people. They suck. Build it on people who do life.
  • Do something beyond your walls that is an expression of your DNA.
  • Paid ministers — do not be ashamed! You are worth it
  • We apologized Post-“Prop 8.” $12k billboard. That changed our church: https://yfrog.com/ob9xakpj
  • We do Facebook ads. But even there do ads that express what you are deeply passionately about.
  • Don’t give up. If you give up, people that need to be reached may not be reached and may not learn about God’s love.



  • “God was probably more interested in what I was becoming rather than what I was doing.”
  • “The greatest obstacle is going to be yourself.” #WhereverYouGoThereYouAre
  • “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen, Anthem


  • When it seems like we fail, we remember that it seemed like Jesus failed on the cross, too. Resurrection comes. Holy Spirit works.
  • Instead of “building” with hammer and nails, maybe gardening metaphor better: “What grows here?” #ParableOfSower. What’s already flowering even without tending?
  • Jesus prepares disciples for failure: If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet.
  • It’s hard to steer a parked car.
  • Sometime you have to let it die, let it go. (referring to programs). You may find that someone may pick it up that really has passion for it.
  • We thought in terms of two month chunks of experimentation. #Iterations
  • Church starting should be a rolling release of beta versions.
  • Continuing the gardening metaphor: let the field lie fallow, and see what still grows.
  • What are others calling “weeds” that we can tend or have “eyes to see” as flowers? #GardeningMetaphor
  • Plough it under.
  • Didn’t jesus say let the wheat grow with the tares?
  • Spend time getting to know the area!!! Where is God already at work that we can partner with? Don’t let you ego and anxiety make you try to plant too soon. Kairos.
  • Unless a grain falls to the ground and dies, it bears no fruit….
  • Advertise your DNA: Who are you as a church?
  • We need community to do it… think of how children recognize dandelions as flowers, but adults rip them up.
  • It’s not about you.
  • Plan to fail.
  • Don’t wrap your identity in the church
  • Gender pressure not to fail
  • Tend life not death
  • Don’t send mailers
  • As young adult, pressure not to fail.
  • Emily Dickinson wrote, “‘Consider the lilies of the field’ is the only commandment I never broke.”

More Panelists

  • Get to know other entrepreneurs in your area who are trying to start up in your community. Learn their tips and tricks and best practices for what works best in your location. Don’t just network with pastors but also with other people who are “starters” (entrepreneurs).
  • Arguably the people/team are more important than the concept.


  • 60% of small business loans are defaulted on by restaurants.
  • If I can’t find it I’m gonna make it. (If that doesn’t sound like a church planter, I don’t know what does)
  • It’s a touchy feeling business: changes with weather, climate. I could give all of you the recipe, and it would come out differently. Ann talking about pizza crust . . . like church and faith I think.
  • On @PizzeriaLola crusts, I could give everyone recipe. Would come out different for everyone //: church plant strategies
  • It’s not about the building, it’s not about the stuff — it’s about the people, and it takes time.
  • You have to be willing to fire people.
  • How to fire someone: “Invite them to realize ways they are not living up to stated expectations.”
  • “The key is to make <the staff> feel valued.
  • Listen, respond but keep your identity.

Context Is EverythingHouse of Mercy, St. Paul Minnesota: http://www.houseofmercy.org

  • Started our church on Soren Kierkegaard’s birthday. Truth is subjectivity.
  • People come to our church to hear the bands.
  • Our models for art opening and bands. And what you did back then was send postcards to your friends and say, “Come see our show.”
  • In approaching the text, curiosity and imagination are crucial — multiplicity of interpretations is a sign of life
  • The Bible doesn’t contain the truth. It witnesses to a truth that is always outside.
  • Membership as “cooperative dis-membership”: dis-mantling devotion to culturally-constructed power and consumerism. #Interdependence #AntiComsumerCapitalism
  • More than 4,000 new church starts each year. Less than 10% will reach more than 40 souls or last more than 5 years. Once church starts declining in attendance, really hard to reverse trend. [Source not referenced.]
  • What if we had an expiration date on church? 5 year plans. “Expiring church movement”,
  • “What if we were free from the survival of the local church?”
  • #FailingHospice as metaphor for church planting. Start with “comfort care.” Move to “curative care.”
  • “As the pastor of a church trying to reinvent itself, I have to be hospice chaplain and midwife “

Tips for the 1st Two Years

  • Don’t buy cheap candles.
  • If you plant a church, you may build disciples. But if you form disciples, you will plant a church.
  • Read the Bible. Read Cookbooks: Cook for your church.
  • Just because you do something and it works, doesn’t mean you have to do it again.
  • Do things that give you life and energy
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Don’t say “we” too soon. The “we” becomes that which authentically emerges from the community.
  • If you can’t be the church without money, you aren’t going to be the church with money.
  • Divorce “sustainability” from conversation about what it means to be faithful. Breeds fear.
  • Don’t wait too long to have “best practices” with money
  • It takes a certain personality to handle the emotional ups and downs of church planting
  • “People leave.”
  • It takes a certain personality to handle the emotional ups and downs of church planting
  • You won’t plant a church with the people you think you will plant a church with.
  • I wanted to learn and be led by artists.

“I don’t get what you’re about” Pressure

  • The Scylla & Charybdis of church planting are Narcissism and Co-dependency #DSM-5
  • Hey, Narcissus, it’s not about you; it’s about God…it’s about building the Beloved Community.
  • Co-dependency: you need to be needed & loved to be loved. Ministry rewards you for co-dependency — unhealthy longterm
  • Do church planters need both a Spiritual Director and a Therapist? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • Ask, “What’s best both for me AND for the other person?” — either in isolation is unsustainable for ministry.
  • “When I see you seeing me, I construct the me I think you see.” Fowler’s Stage 3 Synthetic-Conventional Faith.
  • Book recommendation from @bobhyatt : The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation.
  • Love neighbor as self, not instead of self.
  • When you realize how *little* other people think of you, you’ll stop worrying about what they think of you.
  • Idol to which I sacrifice myself & my family, instead of icon: transparent lens through which God’s light shines.
  • Our age is ripe for idolatry and narcissism: see the ironically lower-case “i” in iPhone, iPad, etc.
  • Tremendous book: Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, & Delight in Our Busy Lives.
  • Brueggemann: our pathology is anxiety >> antidote is Sabbath. All our running is nothing but “brick making for Pharaoh.”
  • Write a manifesto.

Evening Session

  • We find ourselves wounded in our strengths.
  • Intimacy = In-to-me-see
  • “We have power, but no bulb.” … Is that a metaphor for #churchplanting??
  • Songs about moving from being “Wounded Wounders” to “Wounded Healers”

Tim Keel

  • Leadership as about seeing possibility. Then, committing oneself to the path that leads to that possibility.
  • “The intent is not to solve the problem, but make it a better question.”
  • What you see when you “wake up” is what is at-hand…what is actually in front of you.
  • The opposite of metanoia (“beyond your mind”…WAKE UP!) is paranoia, turning in on yourself and your pathologies.
  • Wake up and see clearly what is actually there at hand in front of you. #EyesToSee #EarsToHear
  • LENT: 7 weeks in Isaiah, particularly Isaiah 65. Beings with imperative to see what is there.
  • Biggest problem of leaders is a crisis of imagination. (Seeing beyond the status quo).
  • Four Modes of Engagements: (1) Knowing/Perception, (2) Being/Presence, (3) Doing/Practice, (4) Relating/Postures. 90% of leadership is being and relating…more than what your know or do.
  • Who you are and the inner place from which you operate (PRESENCE) affects how situation unfolds. Two different leaders catalyse radically different outcomes.
  • Malcolm Gladwell might say you need 10,000 hours of prayer/meditation to cultivate that sort of transforming presence.
  • “Letting come” — how does that change the mantra of “letting go?”

Tim Condor

  • What Would Jesus Do? He would fail a church planter’s test. #FoodForThought
  • I have about as much use for “Church Planter’s Tests” as I do for the GRE/SAT/LSAT/MCAT, et al
  • Tell them where you’re going and let whoever wants to follow come along.
  • Open Dialogue, Open Table, Politically Engaged. #OrganicChurch
  • Radically egalitarian church with bivocational staff. Is that what Priesthood/Prophethood of All Believers actually looks like?!
  • Be obsessed with missionality so being a church didn’t get in the way.

The Tims

  • There’s always the 3, the 12, the 70, and the crowd.
  • One of the most powerful functions of a leader is to name the things that are actually going on in your community.


  • Feel free to zone out and see the slides for this my #cpa2012 church structure here: http://www.slideshare.net/breyeschow.
  • Build endoskeleton (construct soft and flexible on top of), not exoskeleton (hard, rigid, keeps inside).
  • Use GoogleDocs for sign-ups.
  • And be willing to let things fail.

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. On July 9, 2012, he will start as the Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).

"I went to ORU and remember Carlton very well. I recall a story he once ..."

Why You Should Watch “Come Sunday” ..."
"Based on this blog, I watched this movie; and I thought it was very interesting. ..."

Why You Should Watch “Come Sunday” ..."
"Excellent movie. Mirrors my own struggle. Now I am also free. Rev. Paul"

Why You Should Watch “Come Sunday” ..."
"It's on Netflix already. See it if you have access! I loved it!"

Why You Should Watch “Come Sunday” ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment